This summer the Israel-targeted Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement aggressively promoted their agenda at several church assemblies, but progress for BDS was limited. At the United Methodist Church General Conference divestment was rejected and delegates urged Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation. BDS made limited progress elsewhere and several divestment and boycott proposals were rejected. At the Presbyterian GA a proposal to boycott Hewlett Packard was overwhelmingly defeated and the PC(USA)’s longstanding commitment to two states for two peoples was reaffirmed.
At the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), divestment failed to gain widespread support. However, a resolution (full text on page 23 of this document) was approved which included the following statement:
To urge this church’s members, congregations, synods, agencies and presiding bishop to call on their U.S. Representatives, Senators and the Administration to take action requiring that, to continue receiving U.S. financial and military aid, Israel must comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as specified in existing U.S. law, stop settlement building and the expansion of existing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and enable an independent Palestinian state; and
To encourage this church’s members, congregations, synods, and agencies to call on the U.S. President to recognize the State of Palestine and not prevent the application of the State of Palestine for full membership in the United Nations.
The resolution passed overwhelmingly. At first glance the statement may seem like a reasonable stance supporting Palestinian rights: why shouldn’t Christians urge the U.S. government to officially recognize the State of Palestine and pressure Israel to “enable” an independent Palestinian state? What harm could possibly come from such a clear and simple statement advocating for Palestinian human rights?
The answer, unfortunately, is a great deal of harm. The harm comes from the essential condition that is missing from the resolution: support for and recognition of a Palestinian state that is firmly committed to peace with Israel. Without this condition the resolution deviates sharply from a genuine two-state solution and instead offers no solution at all. In fact, it actually hurts the cause of Palestinians seeking a better future through peace and coexistence.
Palestinians are sharply divided on the issue of peace with Israel. Many Palestinians hold no ill will toward Israel or its people and support a two-state solution built upon a foundation of dignity for the two peoples. Approximately 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel peacefully each day for work, proving that coexistence works and benefits both peoples.
At the same time there are powerful Palestinian factions openly committed to the destruction of Israel and brazenly inciting terrible violence towards Israeli civilians. “Enabling” a Palestinian state with no obligation for peace with Israel would only strengthen the position of those committed to violence and weaken those seeking peace. Should Christians support establishment of a state committed to violence, a state that denies the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and instead seeks their destruction? The answer, of course, is that we cannot. To do so would be unjust, immoral, and a betrayal of values that are the foundation of our faith.
We do not question the good intentions of the many Lutherans who voted for this resolution, but good intentions are not enough. The harm inflicted when none is intended can be as painful and dangerous as the harm inflicted when intentions are malicious.
Presbyterians have been relentlessly lobbied to take a stance similar to that of the Lutherans. The BDS movement targets only Israel and calls for economic pressure on Israel to “end the occupation” with no Palestinian commitment to peace. BDS leaders have instead issued statements of solidarity with Palestinian violence.
Israel has an obligation to protect its people from violence and a Palestinian commitment to peace is an essential obligation that BDS flagrantly ignores. For this reason alone BDS is both morally wrong and leads only down a dark path to a dead end. The BDS movement and affiliated groups are not a legitimate peace movement but instead an obstacle to peace.
Christians can stand for the rights of Palestinians and Israelis by continuing to support two states for two peoples, the best and most viable plan to end the conflict. Instead of the dark path of simply attacking Israel, we can work toward coexistence, cooperation, and the empowerment of people of good will on both sides of the conflict.